Friday, October 22, 2010

Remembering Huletts Landing on Lake George

Huletts Landing, the resort on the northeastern shore of Lake George, is a summer cottage colony, and some of the cottages are old enough to be of architectural and historic interest.

But however much is intact, even more is missing; destroyed by fire, the wrecking ball and changes in public taste and the economy.

From the 1920s through the 1940s, though, Huletts Landing “was one of the largest, most successful resorts on Lake George,” says Wyatt Firth.

Firth would know. He and his sisters, Lonnie and Judy, grew up at Huletts Landing and with the stories of its legendary past.

Their great-grandfather, William Wyatt, purchased the hotel in 1913; their grandfather, Arthur Wyatt, assumed ownership in 1916 and operated it until his death in 1946.

His wife, Mary Wyatt, continued to return to Huletts Landing every summer until her own death in 1967, and her grand daughter Lonnie Lawrence spent her summers with her.

“The best days of my life were spent at Huletts Landing,” says Lawrence, a Lake George realtor. “I’m just glad I had a chance to see it the way it was.”

The way it was: a 250 acre retreat with a mile long beach; a 200 room hotel; cottages; casino; formal gardens; tennis courts, golf course and steamboat pier.

“What I remember best was the closeness of the community,” Lonnie Lawrence says. “The same families returned year after year and we grew up together.”

With its own stores and sources of recreation, Huletts Landing was self-sufficient, says Lawrence.

“We never left the Landing from the time we arrived in June to the day we departed in September,” she says.

Most days were spent on the beach or in the water, says Lawrence. Evenings were spent at the casino.

The hotel that grew in stages from a farm house at the site burned in 1915.

In 1895, the Lake George Mirror’s W.H. Tippetts wrote: “At the pier, we are met by an attendant of the hotel who conducts us a few steps along the gravel beach to the office, where we are kindly received by the proprietor and shown to a comfortable room… The hotel consists of three large buildings and a number of attractive cottages which are connected by tan bark walks… The house is supplied with an abundance of pure milk and vegetables from the farm attached; and has this season a large fleet of St. Lawrence skiffs.”

In 1916, William Wyatt was charged with arson.

According to George Kapusinski, whose grandparents bought Huletts Landing in 1949 and who recently published a volume of Huletts Landing photographs and post cards (Huletts Landing on Lake George, Images of America, 2008), “William H. Wyatt collected $37,000 in insurance money. The prosecutor charged that after the summer of 1915, Wyatt and John Sharpe met in Albany and planned the fire. It was alleged that Sharpre, traveling under an assumed name, registered at Clemons with a woman and then proceeded to the Huletts Hotel. Once inside, he placed a candle next to a mattress soaked with kerosene.”

While Wyatt was acquitted by a jury, the fire and the charge of arson traumatized the family, Lawrence says.

“It was a tragedy,” Lawrence says. “We always believed that the stress of the trial killed him.”

The Hotel was rebuilt in 1916, and survived intact until 1960, when the Eichlers demolished it.

“It was unique, as there were no later additions to destroy its appearance,” wrote Betty Buckell in (Old Lake George Hotels, privately printed, 1986)

In Billy Callahan’s Happy Huletts: Tales of 1950s Lake George (privately published, 2006) Tom Callahan recalls: “By and large, Huletts was a fun resort. The guests generally enjoyed themselves, despite the fact that the Hotel would never be compared to a Ritz Carleton or Four Seasons, the golf course to Augusta National, or the Dining Room to Le Cirque. It was relaxed clean fun for a family, plenty of athletic activities for everyone, and partying for singles who wanted to dance and drink until the wee hours of the morning.”

During the 1940s, Lawrence’s mother, Pauline Wyatt Firth, was the hotel’s social director.

A Sarah Lawrence-educated singer, she was also the vocalist for the big band that performed in the casino’s ballroom.

After Arthur Wyatt’s death, control of Huletts Landing passed to a corporation, which sold the property to one of its shareholders, George Eichler, for $250,000 in 1949.

A few years later, in 1953, the original casino burned.

“I was only a little girl when the casino burned, but I have vivid memories of it,” says Lonnie Lawrence. “It was a great shingled boat house with a ball room on the second floor.”

In the years that followed, the Eichlers sold the cottages that surrounded the hotel, and in 1960 the hotel was demolished.

“While many look back nostalgically, the time of the great hotel was ending throughout the Adirondacks and a new era was beginning,” writes George Kapusinski in his Huletts Landing On Lake George.

The cottages were sold, primarily to the families who had rented them year after year, and today Huletts Landing is primarily a residential community.

Photos courtesy of Lonnie Lawrence.

For more news from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

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